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Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Outlines its COVID-19 Environmental Compliance Process

Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Alert George J. Marek, Cynthia A. Faur, Lauren R. Harpke

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) recognizes that compliance with certain environmental regulations may be difficult for some regulated entities due to wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some industries, their workers are primarily working from home, or they have stopped entirely those operations deemed as non-essential under the Stay at Home Order. Other companies have quickly modified their operations to produce critical goods like health care supplies or sanitizers. As a result of this quickly changing landscape, WDNR has outlined priorities for its own enforcement efforts, and established an environmental compliance roadmap for regulated entities whose compliance efforts are hindered by the COVID-19 outbreak. The following are key aspects of the WDNR policy:

  • All state environmental laws remain in full force and effect unless specifically suspended by the governor. Companies that cannot comply with applicable requirements or permit conditions due to the COVID-19 outbreak can request “compliance flexibility” through WDNR’s formal process. Companies should not proceed with any proposed alternative compliance methods until WDNR issues written authorization, and companies should document implementation of any authorized alternative compliance methods.
  • WDNR will prioritize its resources in responding to emergencies, specifically those that present an imminent or actual danger, or threat to human health or the environment.
    • Any spills or compliance problems meeting the imminent or actual danger criteria should be reported immediately at 1-800-943-0003 (select #1 when prompted). This toll-free line will be monitored 24 hours per day.
    • Agency action in response to emergency situations will be prioritized over non-emergency tasks, such as onsite audits and inspections or other regulatory compliance enforcement matters.
  • For other “non-emergency” potential non-compliance, companies should contact WDNR to request preapproval for compliance assistance. Requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
    • Written requests should be submitted to the facility’s assigned WDNR compliance contact, the project manager for the regulatory program at issue or, if no WDNR contact exists, using this online form.
    • Requests must include the following information:
      • 1. Name of facility;
      • 2. Facility contact person;
      • 3. The specific statute, rule, or permit condition from which the requestor is looking for flexibility
      • 4. An explanation of why the COVID-19 emergency justifies the regulatory relief requested and the actions that were taken to try to meet the requirement prior to making the flexibility request;
      • 5. A list of measures that will be taken to mitigate any potential environmental impacts from the non-compliance; and
      • 6. The specific time period for which the requestor is seeking the flexible requirements.

Based on the number and type of compliance flexibility requests received, WDNR may be able to determine that a particular regulatory requirement is difficult for a particular industry. WDNR has acknowledged that it may consider granting sector-wide flexibility for certain requirements if it receives a sufficient number of similar requests for flexibility.

For federal matters, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has announced its own policy of enforcement discretion related to COVID-19.


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